November 9, 2013

Rocket, not to Mars but in pockets

THE TELEGRAPH, Wednesday, 6th November, 2013

Calcutta, Nov. 5: Vegetable prices have rocketed up to 175 per cent this Bhai Phonta compared with their rates during the festive season last year.

While the prices of onion have doubled in the past 12 months, those of brinjal have almost trebled.

Although prices tend to move northwards during the festive season — from Durga Puja to Chhat — because of a spurt in demand, sources in the agricultural marketing department termed this year’s escalation “unprecedented”.

In an attempt by The Telegraph to capture the extent of price rise, the rates of a select set of vegetables from various Calcutta markets were considered over the past two days and were compared with the prices last year.

The prices of most vegetables were found to have shot up by 80 per cent on average.(See chart)

“I spent Rs 310 on vegetables today. This is the highest I have paid in recent times…. Something must be wrong,” said Sreemoyee Banerjee in Salt Lake’s CA market today.

The chief minister has of late criticised the Centre for failing to contain price rise. Mamata Banerjee had set up a task force to keep prices of essential commodities in the state in check. She had said her government was the only one to have set up such a team.

But the prevailing vegetable prices suggest the task force has failed.

A member of the task force attributed the price rise to untimely rain and the recent floods in the two Midnapores, Howrah and Hooghly, which affected crops across hectares.

“Till a few days ago, there was hardly any harvest in the villages because of heavy rain. The supply dropped, the demand kept rising. The severe mismatch pushed up vegetable prices,” he added.

Another official said hoarding by a section of traders, who form the supply chain between the farmer and the retailer, was also responsible for the price rise.

Middlemen — known as phore in markets — operate in almost all sectors. They play a key role in the supply chain, which makes them eligible for gains from the trade.

According to an official of the agricultural marketing department, the “activism” of the task force is limited to Calcutta markets. But the hoarding usually takes place midway, between the supply of vegetables from the districts and the markets.

Lack of preparation in handling a sudden shortfall — as had happened in the case of potato — is another reason for the spiralling prices, the official said.

“During the Left rule, the government used to buy 12 per cent of the total potatoes in cold storages…. Given the annual production in the range of 90 to 100 lakh tonnes, this would have meant around 10-12 lakh tonnes with the government. A sudden shortfall could have been handled with this,” he added.

The Left government also had an agreement with other potato producers like Punjab and Uttar Pradesh to bail out Bengal during the festive season. In 2009, Bengal bought 10,000 tonnes of the tuber from Punjab.

The government yesterday had promised to provide potatoes at Rs 11 a kg to retailers in 20 Calcutta markets to be sold to consumers at Rs 13. But the potatoes arrived so late, the retailers had left by then. The Jyoti variety was not available while the Chandramukhi sold at Rs 24 a kilo.

Rocket, not to Mars but in pockets.

Rocket, not to Mars but in pockets

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